Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thanks be to God! Kidnapped bishops released [UPDATE: Reports of release false]


From the BBC:
Two bishops who were abducted by gunmen in a rebel-held area of northern Syria have been released, a church official has said.

The pair have returned to the city of Aleppo, Greek Orthodox Bishop Tony Yazigi told Reuters.

The senior clerics, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, were seized on Monday as they were travelling from the Turkish border back to the city of Aleppo.

It was not immediately clear who had kidnapped them.

Bishop Ibrahim is the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo, while Bishop Yaziji leads the city's Greek Orthodox Church.

They are the most senior Christian clerics caught up directly in the war.

Abductions on the rise 
Kidnappings have increased dramatically in Syria in the past year but the abduction of such high-ranking Christian figures is unusual, the BBC's James Reynolds reports from the city of Istanbul, in neighbouring Turkey.

Christians made up about 10% of the mainly Sunni Muslim country's population before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began just over two years ago.

President Assad's government has hoped to retain their loyalty, based on a shared fear of what might happen if Sunni Muslims take over the country, our correspondent says.

But some Christians have chosen to join the opposition - including George Sabra, the newly appointed leader of the opposition coalition, he adds.

State TV earlier announced that an "armed terrorist group" had kidnapped the two bishops as they carried out "humanitarian work in [the] Aleppo countryside".

Their driver is thought to have been killed in Monday's kidnapping attack.

Abdulahad Steifo, a Syriac member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said the men had been kidnapped on the road to Aleppo from the rebel-held Bab al-Hawa crossing, which is close to the Turkish town of Reyhanli.

Asked who was behind their abduction, he said: "All probabilities are open."

In an interview with BBC Arabic's Saeed Shehada a week ago, Bishop Ibrahim said he was optimistic about the future of Christians in Syria:

"There is no persecution of Christians and there is no single plan to kill Christians. Everyone respects Christians. Bullets are random and not targeting the Christians because they are Christians," he said.

According to the UN, at least 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war and more than one million are now living as refugees in neighbouring countries.
UPDATE: The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese says reports of the bishops' release are false.
There have appeared many reports in both the Eastern and Western press that the two hierarchs who were abducted yesterday by terrorists in Syria, Metropolitan Boulos Yazge, Antiochian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, and Archbishop Youhanna Ibrahim, Syriac Archbishop of Aleppo, have been released. His Eminence Metropolitan Philip spoke by phone this morning to His Beatitude John X, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East (pictured), who said that these reports are false, and that the release of these two hierarchs has NOT taken place.

We ask you to continue to pray for their safety, and eventual release.

Confirmed updates will be published as soon as they are known.